Geese foul London park, but bird lovers squawk at deadly solution

January 27, 1992|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- When the members of the Wandsworth borough council voted recently to cull the geese in Battersea Park, they had no idea of the fury they were about to unleash.

Today they realize it is not good policy to abuse the sensibilities of Britain's bird lovers. The council vote triggered a national squawk. Now council members are considering alternative policies -- of which they say there are few, if any, that will work.

Battersea is a tranquil park that sprawls up the south bank of the Thames across from fashionable Chelsea. It has a 15-acre lake where people boat and some 800 Canada geese float.

The geese were introduced into the park years ago for ornamentation. The birds thrived and multiplied. They began to decorate the park and pond in an unintended way.

The problem, for want of a more precise word, is goose guano. Canada geese are exceptional producers.

In the words of the council, the geese are "fouling the amenities."

Since the birds resisted all attempts to drive them away, the council decided the only solution was to shoot about 200 of them. Men in khaki and camouflage, described as "professional exterminators," were recruited.

The Department of the Environment provided a license to light the park at night. The bloody work was to be carried out while the birds were sleeping.

Then all plans for a quick and deft strike seemed to go awry. Some members of Bird Aid arrived with pesky arguments and the apparent intention to camp out in the park to prevent the execution of the council's solution. One snowy-bearded member named Stan Clapham kept stuffing the geese under his coat and taking them home.

Bird Aid members specialize in rescuing wounded fowl. This may have been the first time they tried preventive tactics.

Then the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals got involved. Both opposed the culling.

Finally, the Metropolitan Police, possibly troubled by images of would-be "exterminators" creeping through the philodendron with cork black smeared on their faces, decided it would not be a good idea to be letting off firearms in a public park, day or night. Someone might get shot, in addition to the geese. The neighbors would be kept awake.

Wandsworth council members are now spending much of their time opening letters from all over the country offering solutions to the Battersea problem. One bird lover suggested shipping some of the fowl back to Canada. Another offered to truck them to Scotland.

Since there are an estimated 60,000 Canada geese in Britain, the council believes others would simply fly in to take the place of those removed. And Joanne Kettle, a spokeswoman for the council, says other options, such as pricking the geese eggs and substituting dummy eggs, have been tried. None of it works. The flock keeps growing.

But the bird protectionists are adamant there will be no shooting. They are a determined and unforgiving species, as the following story might indicate.

A man encountered not long ago in Northern Ireland told of how he and 200 other bird protectionists had reserved rooms for their annual convention at a hotel in an extremely depressed part of Scotland.

The hotel had not had so many guests in years. The manager was grateful, and he planned to do his best to encourage the bird people to return. On the first day the chef laid on a great feast. No sooner was the meal served, when the conventioneers began to get up from the table in large groups and proceed to check out of the hotel.

The manager, in a panic, pleaded with one of them to tell him what was wrong.

"The menu," said the guest.

"The menu?"

"Duck."

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